Once upon a time, I boarded an Uber from an airport to a conference. I was surprised to see that the driver was not on her seat belt. I felt very uneasy because I could not think of driving without my seat belt. When I asked why she was not using the safety device, she tells me about her dislike for seat belts, and, in my mind, I imagined that she dislikes her life too. I was still trying to convince her about the safety benefits of using a seat belt when she starts to adjust her seat belt in haste and looking ahead I could see cops on the road flagging down cars and directing them to a detour at a road maintenance spot. She was afraid of being caught and punished for breaking a driving law, so she adjusted her seat belt.
Most people fear the law and the reason is not far-fetched because it often punishes defaulters. However, the ideal purpose of the law is not to punish but to regulate, guide, and protect those who are subject to its prescriptions. We could, therefore, define the law as a set of rules that govern the actions of those who are subject to its promulgation. There is hardly any aspect of life that is not controlled by some set of rules. Humans, animals, and plants exist by responding to both natural and conventional laws.
In the First Reading today (Deut. 4:1-2, 6-8), Moses tells the people of Israel to observe (without addition or subtraction) the statues and decrees he was giving them so that they could live and enter to possess the land that God is giving to them. Furthermore, he tells them that paying attention to the commandments would increase their worth among the nations around them.
From the instructions of Moses to the people, we understand that there are benefits that accrue from obedience to the law. The benefits include longevity and possession of the promised land insofar there is obedience to the statues and decrees without alterations. Often, we desire the destination, but we don’t want to go through the journey. In the context under review, the goal is the promised land, but the mission involves paying attention to the ordinances.
In the Second Reading (James 1:17-18, 21b-22, 27), the apostle takes the matter further by instructing that action should animate the observance of the law, “be doers of the word, not hearers only.” Christianity is a way of life, not just a religion; it is a verb, not just a noun. No doubt, there are many Christians in the world but how many are practising the Christian life? I don’t mean appearing in the church on Sunday! Indeed, most us, Christians, could recite the ten commandments of by heart but how often do these commandments resonate with our daily lives? St. James is challenging us to go beyond observance and make practical applications from what we learn and know.
In the Gospel Reading (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23), our Lord Jesus Christ takes the instructions of James further by making a more explicit distinction between religious observance and spiritual life. Some detractors from among the Pharisees quizzed him about the negligence of the ritual of the washing of hands before meals by the apostles which potentially makes them unclean. Our Lord takes time to establish that it is what comes out of our hearts that could make or unmake us not the cleanliness of the physical hands nor the food we eat.
Often, we judge people by their appearances and make conclusions from what we see. Purity is not a result of how we appear or how meticulous we follow religious rites. Contrary to what most of us think, purity is a product of the inner part of us, our hearts. It is wrong for us to judge people where we met them because that may not be their destination; we should not even judge at all (Matt. 7:1-5) as the Pharisees would often do.
Moving Forward: Observe and Practice!
In the Second Reading today, St. James tells us that the religion that is pure and undefiled before God involves care for the orphans and widows in their affliction (that is charity) and keeping oneself unstained by the world (that is conscious avoidance of sin).
From the outlook of the apostle James, we understand that there is a religion that is impure and defiled which, from his analysis, would include insensitivity to the needy and relapse into sin. Now, we need to ask ourselves this question individually, “what kind of religion am I practising? As we celebrate the Holy Eucharist today, we need to examine how our Christian life is aminated beyond ritual and traditional observances and seek to fulfil the heart of the law which is love for God and our neighbors (Matthew 22:37-40).
Have a beautiful week ahead.